Sunday 29th July, 2007

 
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Moving the goalpost

Last week’s column generated quite a lot of feedback, for which I am grateful. One point I certainly agree with is that being “the most academically-qualified” does not necessarily mean that you are the “brightest.”

As one email put it: “Scholastic grades as the single index of smartness or readiness for medical school is highly erroneous.

“A grade profile of AAA is simply a statistical representation of a student’s ability to reproduce information and materials.

“This obsession with how well students can regurgitate is prevalent in Trinidad and Tobago’s educational system.

“Standardised exams such as CXC and A-Levels only indicate a student’s ability to store facts and reproduce them.

“They tell nothing of one’s mental and emotional preparedness for the wide range of demands in the medical profession.”

I agree.

Indo-Trinidadian students do need to engage in more extra-curricular activities, and culturally, there must be a shift to the centre, as “a healthy mind in a healthy body” has not traditionally been the goal, with the result that many Indo-professionals suffer from poor health far too early on in their life.

There are many “brilliant” scholarship winners who have no inter-personal skills or leadership ability, are introverted or too timid, and this seriously devalues their overall worth and contribution as a citizen.

I therefore agree with the inclusion of extra-curricular activities as a criterion for admission into academic life.

It must not, however, be the overriding factor or overwhelm the primary criteria, as I wouldn’t want an incompetent doctor who could play pan and football sewing me up anymore than I would one that could play the dholak and cricket!

Policies that have resulted in glaring racial imbalances must be examined. Are the criteria too narrow or biased? Or, is it a case of underachievement on the part of one section of society that needs examination and explanation?

Moving the goalposts will not necessarily change the identity of the goalscorers, and may even dilute overall standards.

There must be a willingness to address such issues in a multi-racial society, based on racial politics, or else suspicion and resentment are bound to occur.

I have repeatedly called for the compilation of racial and other statistics, because I believe this could help influence, shape and inform government policy.

Indians could be completely wrong to point to the imbalance in the protective services, or the Central Bank, as evidence of racial discrimination, because they probably do not apply in large numbers.

Africans may be equally wrong to complain about the disproportionate number of Indian medical students or entrepreneurs, because they chose different careers in the social sciences, arts and public service.

And in both cases, they might not be applying because they do not believe they would succeed, or if they get in, that they would be welcomed and could prosper.

Why go where you’re not wanted?

State agencies have stoutly refused to compile racial and other statistics, out of fear for what it might reveal and our perceived inability as a society to handle the socio-political reality.

We are not politically mature enough to handle the truth. And worse yet, we hide behind the misplaced concept of meritocracy.

Should Indo-Trinis feel discriminated against because most of the government housing projects exclude them?

The Government response that it is simply giving homes to the homeless or those who need it the most begs the question: where is the statistical data to substantiate the position that there are disproportionately more Afro-Trini families in need of housing than other groups in society?

What if the research revealed that Indo-Trinis happily but illegally settled in rural areas and built houses on State (Caroni) lands, or Afro-Trinis culturally prefer to live in high-rise apartment complexes in urban areas?

Does the Government think the perception of discrimination would simply disappear if it keeps repeating the political rhetoric of simply giving homes to the needy?

Costaatt’s “Afros-first” policy had opened up a can of worms. Everyone accepted that the Afro-Trini male between 17-24 needed special attention because, as Rowley put it, they are “underachieving in the classrooms and overachieving in the jails.”

No statistical data was presented.

In modern societies, data is actively solicited and configured by the State and large corporations in the private sector, with the aim of promoting equality.

This informs policies on issues such as racial balance, gender equality, geographical spread, disability quotas, mature student entry for “older” people, equal opportunity for gays and lesbians, flexi-time hours for parents, etc.

In T&T, we seem to prefer debating in the dark without the assistance of the candlelight of statistics.

Why?

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